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I was born in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1947, a ‘baby-boomer’ who grew up in that town during the fifties and sixties. My mates and I, like most young Aussie guys, attended the movies once a week (usually on a Friday night), followed by the footy or cricket or the beach on the weekend. When I say ‘footy’, I mean Australian Rules football, not soccer or rugby. We have a strange set-up in Australia in the winter time. Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory treat Aussie Rules Football as a religion, while New South Wales and Queensland are crazy about Rugby. It is almost as if we inhabit two different countries. Of course, both sports are played everywhere, but the following varies enormously, depending on which side of the continent one lives. This obsession with sport led young people in the fifties to find most of their heroes in those areas of endeavour. Consequently, young boys seeking screen stars as their idols, often compared actors to sportsmen and judged them accordingly. Our heroes, therefore, were generally expected to show at least some signs of athleticism, a requirement that automatically narrowed down the acting fraternity’s possibilities dramatically.


Michael Caine in Zulu (1964) – at least he is not running.

The first thing we noticed was that very few actors are seen running on the screen, because most of the stars of that era were not very good at it. Too many years treading the boards no doubt. We racked our tiny minds, trying to recall seeing the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Rock Hudson, John Wayne, Robert Taylor, James Stewart and so on, sprinting anywhere. I recall how appalled we were when watching the iconic war film Zulu in 1964. One minute we were waxing lyrical about our new-found hero, Michael Caine; the next we were crossing him off the ‘heroes list’ as we witnessed him tripping across the yard in a manner that made Shirley Temple look positively masculine! Guys noticed that straight away. Girls did not and he became a sex symbol for years. Sheesh!

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Fess Parker as Davy Crockett

With that limitation in mind, we would sit around drinking Cokes and eating chips, discussing just which screen stars passed muster. And there weren’t many, not from the old days anyway. We wanted macho heroes and they were as scarce as hen’s teeth. I think I was about 9 years old when the Davy Crockett phenomenon hit Australia. Fess Parker as Davy became our first screen idol. We were not sure if he could run or not, but anyone who could kill squillions of Indians and Mexicans without blinking an eye had to be an athlete. Besides, the guy wore a coonskin hat for crying out loud! Any one of us would gladly have killed for one because they didn’t make them in Oz.

Image result for audie murphy in to hell and back    Image result for audie murphy 40 guns to apache pass

Another ‘walk-up-start’ hero was Audie Murphy. What a legend! He slaughtered a zillion Germans in real life during the war, and had medals ‘up the whazoo’ to prove it. It mattered not that he was a bit on the tiny side because he had the score on the board. Nobody messed with Audie. Other pint-sized stars were imposters by comparison. James Cagney, Edward G Robinson, Alan Ladd and George Raft, for example, were midgets trying to look tough! We liked big blokes who, when they said, ‘Get out of town’, you bloody-well got out of town!

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Rod Taylor as Chuka.

With that in mind, we gave Aussie star Rod Taylor the ‘thumbs-up’. He was a barrel-chested 5’11” tough guy and an Australian to boot. Another guy who passed with flying colours was Clint Walker, ‘Cheyenne Bodie’ in the hit TV series Cheyenne. He was 6’6” and built like a block of flats. Clint, we agreed, would walk into any Aussie Rules side whether he could play or not. The same went for James Arness, the 6’7” Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke. As we say in Oz, ‘he could hold a bull out to piss!’ And, last but by no means least, the coolest guy on TV was without doubt Brett Maverick, played by the inimitable James Garner. He was over 6 feet tall as well but, in all honesty, if he was the same size as Danny De Vito he still would have made our heroes list. Why? Because he was too smart for everybody. I should add that my mother worshipped him. I have no doubt, whatsoever, that she would have dropped my old man like a hot scone if he had given her a call.

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Clint Walker as Cheyenne                                   James Arness as Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke

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James Garner as Maverick

There were, however, a lot big stars that we could simply not abide. High on the list was Elvis bloody Presley! His top lip was deformed and forever curling out of control, his hair was too neat, his hips could not stop wiggling and he walked about as if he was about to ‘Kung Fu’ some unsuspecting slob at any moment. And he carried himself as if he thought he was irresistible to women. Worst of all – he was! We much preferred Buddy Holly. His music was better and he did not fancy himself as a ladies’ man. But then he fell out of the sky and we were left with Elvis! Another singer that stopped us cold was Cliff Richard. Probably a bit harsh, but we felt his voice and his songs were second-rate, and there was something about his demeanour that irked us totally.

Image result for elvis in love me tender     Image result for fred astaire   Image result for mickey rooney - let's put on a show

Elvis & Rock & Roll – in the Civil War! Love Me Tender                     Fred Astaire, leading man – Sheesh!           Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland

Some of the screen’s so-called ‘great lovers’ mystified us too. For instance, we thought Clark Gable was not very good looking at all. So why was he ‘King of Hollywood’? And who was responsible for casting Fred Astaire as the male lead in romantic comedies? Is there a chronic eyesight problem in L.A.? The man was skinny, anything but handsome, with the personality of a dung beetle, yet gorgeous women like Cyd Charisse and Leslie Caron fell at his feet. So he was a good dancer – so what? He was about as romantic as ‘Rochester’ Anderson.

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Martin & Lewis, back in the days when Jerry was actually funny.

Even more annoying than Fred was that irritating bundle of narcissism, Mickey Rooney! His catch-cry, ‘I know, let’s put on a show!’ positively made our teeth grind (collectively). And why did he always refer to songs as ‘numbers’? God, how we loathed that. And like Jerry Lewis, the older he got, the more annoying he got. When we were boys we loved Jerry and were bugged by Dean Martin. All we wanted to see in their movies was Jerry doing his zany thing, so every time Dino interrupted the fun to sing some tenth-rate love song we spewed. Ironically, after they broke up, it was Dino who became the hilarious one and Jerry descended into self-absorption. Against all the odds Dean became a superstar and Jerry became a super pain in the butt.

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Edd ‘Kookie’ Byrnes in 77 Sunset Strip

Image result for james dean   Famous for dying young!

James Dean

Speaking of folk named Dean, how in hell did James Dean acquire this mythical status of being the most scintillating actor that never was? I have watched his so-called legendary performances several times and have arrived at the same conclusions each time; OK, but so what? As kids back in the fifties we were nonplussed when we saw teenaged girls weeping and wailing at news of his death. We just didn’t get it. Mind you, a few years later those same girls were wafting about on clouds of ecstasy every time Edd ‘Kookie’ Byrnes twirled his comb and uttered those never to be forgotten words, ‘Cool, Daddy-O, cool!’ on 77 Sunset Strip. It was our unanimous vote that all girls between the ages of one and a hundred should be banned from movie theatres. Theoretically, with only male audiences left to please, the studios could then inundate us with scores of Audie Murphy westerns and the world would be a far better place. If only.

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